Film Friday: ‘Daybreakers’ and ‘Leap Year’

by W. Andrew Powell

Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe in 'Daybreakers'

Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe in 'Daybreakers'

Happy 2010, everyone, and welcome to a brand new year at the movies. New this week in theatres, Ethan Hawke stars as a remorseful vampire in the action-horror hybrid, Daybreakers. Also in theatres, Michael Cera stars in the adaptation of C. D. Payne’s famed novel, Youth In Revolt; while Amy Adams and Matthew Goode lead the romantic comedy, Leap Year.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Michael Dorman, Claudia Karvan
Director: Michael and Peter Spierig

Unless you’re a teenager lusting after the bloodless losers from the Twilight series, you’re probably about as tired of the recent vampire craze as the rest of the population.
There have been TV shows, movies, books, and yes, even more movies, and for the most part they have been cheesy, dreary, empty knock-offs of the usual vampire tales.

Michael and Peter Spierig, the writing and directing duo behind Daybreakers, tried to do something a little different with Daybreakers, however. In this futuristic concept film, which subtly twists the vampire mythos, the Spierig have come up with an action-horror hybrid that is entertaining, and even includes a talented group of actors. The only flaw is that it is certainly not everything that it could have been.

Daybreakers is set in the year 2019, ten years after an epidemic has turned the population of the world into vampires, leaving a very small number of humans alive and in hiding. As the vampires go about their lives – drinking coffee topped up with blood, working after sunset, driving cars that have day-time shades to keep the sun out – humans have become a precious commodity and blood is starting to get scarce. Captured humans are held in a bank-like facility where they are constantly drained of blood, but there just aren’t enough humans any more.

As the blood shortage starts to have an effect, Edward Dalton, played by Ethan Hawke, is doing his best to come up with a synthetic blood substitute for the company he works for, which also happens to be a “blood bank”. Recognizing the danger the vampire world is in, should the blood supply dry up entirely, Edward has another problem in that he refuses to drink human blood unless he absolutely must, which is starting to take its toll on him.

A chance encounter with a small group of humans, led by Audrey, and played by Claudia Karvan, changes everything for Edward though, and gives him a new opportunity to free humanity. Taken to meet the leader of a local group of humans, Edward is introduced to Lionel, otherwise known as “Elvis”, played by Willem Dafoe, a former vampire who discovered a way to become human once again. The implications of this are of course astounding to a man who can’t live with himself as a vampire, but as he strives to find a way to recreate the process on himself, the group will have to defend themselves from Edward’s boss, Charles Bromley, played by the one and only Sam Neill.

With a strong beginning and end to the film, and more than a few great action scenes, Daybreakers does enough differently that it is incredibly enjoyable. The cast is also quite good, especially since they are mostly all playing characters they have done before. Hawke has played this depressed, enigmatic, and brainy role before; Dafoe is a natural as the charismatic weirdo; and Sam Neill simply radiates evil from every pore in this rare opportunity for him to play the entertaining villain.

The problem with Daybreakers is that the Spierig brothers missed a lot of opportunities. The dialogue is adequate at best, and ridiculous at other times. The film’s overall tone is flat and mostly depressing, but not in a stylish way that might be more appealing, and for all the ingenuity in Daybreakers’ setting, most of the film plays out like your average survival film.

Even the well-timed themes in the film, which seem to touch on the recent economic crash, and the oil marketplace, seem toothless, if you’ll excuse the pun.

For genre fans, Daybreakers is fun and dark, and just gritty enough to make it worth the price of admission. A few truly original scenes also stand out from the rest of the film, as when Edward tests his latest round of synthetic blood on a vampiric soldier. Overall though the film was a little too half-baked for me, and I think most filmgoers will see it for what it is: another vampiric retread that needed more than just a clever setting.

Also coming out this week…

Youth In Revolt
Starring: Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi
Director: Miguel Arteta

Based on the famed novel by C. D. Payne, Youth In Revolt is the story of a teenager, wise beyond his years and stuck between his soon-to-be divorced parents, who dreams of losing his virginity.

Michael Cera stars as Nick Twisp, while Portia Doubleday plays his love interest, the lovely Sheeni Saunders, in this quirky, funny dramedy about life as a teenager.

Earning numerous positive reviews from critics, Youth In Revolt looks like a solid film to check out this week. As Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York wrote in his review, “It’s a kick to see Cera cut loose from his patented befuddled-nerd routine, even if the film’s caricatured performances and fish-in-a-barrel scorn are sure to be monotonous for some.”

Leap Year
Starring: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott
Director: Anand Tucker

Amy Adams stars as Anna in the romantic comedy, Leap Year, the story of a woman who decides to take her future into her own hands and propose to her long-time boyfriend.

Planning to take advantage of an old Irish tradition that says women can propose to men on February 29, Anna plans a trip to meet up with her boyfriend in Dublin. When fate gets in the way though, leaving Anna stranded on the wrong side of Ireland, she has to get a little help in the form of Declan, played by Matthew Goode. Bickering as they travel, Anna will do whatever it takes to get to Dublin in time, but of course, there may be a complication along the way as she finds herself falling for her travelling companion.

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